Out of the Rough: Tour Championship (2023)
The conclusion of the 2022-2023 PGA TOUR season is upon us with one final stop at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia for the Tour Championship.
Throughout the season, golfers collected cumulative FedEx Standing points with eyes set on making the 75-man field of the FedEx Cup Playoffs first event in the FedEx St. Jude Championship.
From there, the top 50-golfers in the FedEx Cup Standings made their way to the BMW Championship and now, just the top 30-golfers of the season long FedEx Cup Standings have secured a spot in this week’s end-of-the-season TOUR Championship.
Now, when it’s all said-and-done on Sunday, one man will stand on the 18th green at East Lake hoisting the Tour Championship trophy and walking away with a lofty $18 Million check.
There will also be a staggered stroke handicap appointed this week, rewarding those in the top ten of the season-long FedEx Cup Standings.
As previously mentioned, this event does not play as your standard stroke-play event.
Golfer’s respective placement in the FedEx Cup Standings heading into this week have been granted a starting stroke handicap to reward their season long success
This staggered start essentially eliminated 75-percent of the field from serious contention in winning the coveted TOUR Championship.
The starting scores are as followed:
1. Scottie Scheffler (-10)
2. Viktor Hovland (-8)
3. Rory McIlroy (-7)
4. Jon Rahm (-6)
5. Lucas Glover (-5)
6-10. Max Homa, Patrick Cantlay, Brian Harman, Wyndham Clark and Matt Fitzpatrick (-4)
11-15. Tommy Fleetwood, Russell Henley, Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele (-3)
16-20. Tom Kim, Sungjae Im, Tony Finau, Corey Conners and Si Woo Kim (-2)
21-25. Taylor Moore, Nick Taylor, Adam Schenk, Collin Morikawa and Jason Day (-1)
26-30. Sam Burns, Emiliano Grillo, Tyrrell Hatton, Jordan Spieth and Sepp Straka (Even)
This scoring format has been in place since 2019 and the furthest a winner has started back was Cantlay in 2021 at -4. McIlroy won in 2019 starting at -5. The other two winners in this format (McIlroy in 2022 and Dustin Johnson in 2020) both started at -10.
If that trend is to continue, just the top ten in this week’s field will have a chance at victory.
For a list of this week’s full field, look above to the staggered scoring breakdown.
Beyond that, there isn’t much to break down as this field is limited to just the 30-best season long golfers on this year’s PGA TOUR.
East Lake Golf Club was established in 1904 and features a rich history. It has served as the permanent final stop of the PGA TOUR season since the TOUR Championship’s inception 2004.
Along with being the permanent home to this end-of-the-season event, East Lake has hosted the Ryder Cup in 1963 and the 2001 U.S. Amateur. East Lake also hosts the East Lake Cup, a collegiate match play series that has seen notable individual medalist honors such as Scheffler and Hovland
East Lake is Donald Ross designed and plays as a par-70 at 7,319 yards. This puts the course slightly above the TOUR average in distance.
The track features six par-fours over 450-yards and three par-threes over 200-yards. These holes offer a slight advantage to the longer hitters of the TOUR, especially those with strong long irons.
Driving will be a premium here at East Lake which features the most narrow fairways on TOUR and annually holds a top-three placement annually in missed fairway penalty of all courses played on TOUR.
With the narrow fairways, this track still rewards golfers with above-average distance off-the-tee.
Over 30-percent of all approach shots taken this week will come from 200-plus yards, going along with the three par-threes over 200 yards, those with strong long irons will get a leg up this week.
The green complexes featured this week are nuanced, just as we’ve seen at other Ross designs on TOUR (Sedgefield Country Club and Detroit Golf Club.) The greens are also Bermuda, taking away some of the importance of strong-putting.
Scrambling too will be of the utmost importance this week with these extremely narrow fairways and the force of golfers playing from the rough. With such implications on the line, being able to scramble and then in turn, avoid bogeys, will be the difference.
Additionally, both of the last two TOUR Championships have been determined by just one stroke.
Overall, East Lake takes a complete tee-to-green game to be successful. Any hopeful winner will require a well-balanced attack.
Annually, half of the the holes played at East Lake field a scoring average above par.
As of the time of writing this, the weather forecast is calling for four perfect days for this tournament. There is little-to-no chance of precipitation this week with just a 20-percent chance on Saturday and Sunday. Temperatures will be hot however as Friday currently calls for a high of 99 degrees. Thursday is calling for 95 degrees and Saturday is calling for 97 degrees before falling to 89 degrees for the final day on Sunday. Winds too will remain in the high single digits this week.
Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (SG: TTG)
Strokes Gained: Off the Tee (SG: OTT) / Average Driving Distance
Good Drives Percentage
Strokes Gained: Approach (SG: APP)
Par Four Average Scoring
Par Three Average Scoring
Proximity to the Hole from 200-plus Yards
Strokes Gained: Putting on Bermuda (SG: PUTT Bermuda)
Birdie or Better Percentage
With a field of just 30-golfers this week, I will not be playing DFS due to the lack of disparity. In turn, I’m going to offer my three favorite betting lines this week.
Jon Rahm (+850)
Betting this week is tough with the staggered start. Of course, Scottie Scheffler leads my model this week and is starting this week at -10 with two strokes over second place Viktor Hovland (-8.) The odds on Scottie are way to slim to get behind at just +135. Rory McIlroy comes in behind Scheffler on the books at +330 and Hovland is third at +550. I don’t think Rahm’s +850 is that bad of a number and he’ll start this week just four strokes back. Rahm is currently first on all of TOUR in par three average scoring and birdie or better percentage. He is also third in proximity to the hole from 200-plus yards, fourth in SG: APP, fifth in all three of SG: TTG, ball striking and par four average scoring, 11th in bogey avoidance, 12th in average driving distance, 19th in SG: OTT, 46th in scrambling, 62nd in good drives percentage and 66th in SG: PUTT Bermuda. Rahm isn’t in the best of form heading into this week, placing T37th at the FedEx St. Jude Championship and T31st at the BMW Championship. However, he did place T2nd a few weeks back at The Open Championship. Rahm has played in this event each of the last six seasons. He placed T15th a year ago but placed second in 2021 and fourth in 2020. He also placed T7th in 2017, T11th in 2018 and T12th in 2019. Rahm will need to turn it on to upend Scheffler, Hovland and McIlroy ahead of him, but if anyone can do it, it’s Rahm. I’m playing five units on Rahm this week.
Patrick Cantlay (+1800)
Going off of the past four years, no one outside of the top ten of the starting staggered scoring has gone on to win this event. Cantlay finds himself starting at -4, six strokes off the lead of Scheffler. However, the only golfer to come back from a starting six strokes back to win the TOUR Championship was Cantaly in 2021. Cantlay had a disappointing outing last week, placing T15th at the BMW Championship after coming in as the two-time defending champion. However, he did place second at the FedEx St. Jude Championship after falling in a one-hole playoff to Lucas Glover. On top of winning this event in 2021, Cantlay placed T7th a season ago. He is currently second on TOUR in both par four average scoring and birdie or better percentage, third in all three of SG: TTG, ball striking and bogey avoidance, fifth in SG: OTT, 13th in good drives percentage, 25th in both SG: APP and scrambling, 37th in average driving distance, 71st in SG: PUTT Bermuda, 95th in proximity to the hole from 200-plus yards and 129th in par three average scoring. Cantlay, like Rahm, will have to get hot early and maintain that pace throughout all four days if he were to go on to win but Cantlay has done that before. I’m playing three units on Cantlay this week.
Lucas Glover (+5500)
How improbable would it be if Glover were to go on to win the TOUR Championship? It would go down as one of the greatest stories in the history of golf. He sat beyond 120th in the FedEx Cup Standings with one event to play in the Wyndham Championship that he went on to win. He opened these FedEx Cup Playoffs with a victory at the St. Jude Championship and here we are. Glover sits fifth entering this final week and five strokes back. Glover has played in this event just once prior, placing T29th in a 30 man field in 2019. He is currently second on TOUR in good drives percentage, eighth in par three average scoring, 13th in both ball striking and SG: APP, 17th in proximity to the hole from 200-plus yards, 18th in both par four average scoring and bogey avoidance, 24th in scrambling, 25th in SG: TTG, 46th in SG: OTT, 47th in birdie or better percentage and 138th in both average driving distance and SG: PUTT Bermuda. We know the story behind Glover’s putting however. Ever since he switched to the ‘belly putter’ and reworked his mechanics mid-season, his putter has turned into a weapon. The driving distance may be a concern but he is an elite fairway-finder. He is also elite on approach and with his long irons. I’m not too concerned there. Let’s cap off this magical season with Glover winning the TOUR Championship! I’m playing two units on Glover this week.